Kim Clijsters put fear in her return to tennis but fell short at the Dubai Duty-Free Tennis Championships Monday night. The Belgian made the second set stressful for Garbine Muguruza, who saw the match going forward but stopped it with a 6-2, 7-6(6) win on Centre Court at the Dubai Tennis Stadium. The win was Muguruza's 12th of the season and her first against Clijsters
In her first match since retiring in 2012, the Belgian legend returned to action facing this year’s Australian Open finalist, who hadn't competed since then. With Dubai a new tournament for the 36-year-old, she made it a big test on whether she had the skills to outduel a former World No.1. Taking two weeks from the competition, Muguruza took a rest and prepped with coach Conchita Martinez to face a four-time slam champion.
Clijsters opened service, but unforced errors left her trailing in the game. She forced deuce but failed to get the hold down against Muguruza. She fell behind 0-40 hitting hard returns to try and make a comeback, yet fell two games down. A positive turnout occurred for the Belgian who fired off terrific groundstrokes while holding the 26-year-old to a point. The margin remained firm for Muguruza until her break of Clijsters in the seventh, increasing it to three games.
The ninth seed served for the match, but nerves gave the Belgian three breakpoints. Muguruza saved all three to force deuce with cross-court winners and gained a set point with a strong service game. The Spaniard laid down one more to close the first in 32 minutes, recording six winners while carrying a 79 percent first serve.
Muguruza’s success rolled into the second set, scoring a break before consolidating it for a 2-0 lead. After scoring a double break, the ninth seed trailed 0-40 on her service. Making a comeback was not in the cards for Muguruza who put Clijsters on the board with balls to inch closer. A good service game put Clijsters within tying Muguruza who let the focus slip away. The world number 16 held in the sixth by a small margin, knowing that the set moved differently with very little control on her end.
Also get: the full Dubai Tennis Championships 2020 Results
Clijsters continued to shake off the rust, scoring another victory that kept the lead at one for the Spaniard. Her ability to gain a break made it four-all with fans cheering Clijsters, and Muguruza feeling the pressure. The Belgian was in a great rhythm in the ninth on serve, yet found herself going to deuce on errors committed. Despite mistakes, there arose a mix of cross courts and line drives from both of them making it a tight battle. After three breaks, Clijsters had the win to lead 5-4 with Muguruza serving to extend the set or force a decider.
The Spaniard calmed the storm that rattled her holding in the tenth. It did not go away as Clijsters stayed focused and put the pressure back on Muguruza to hold or see the match even up. A serve to love from the ninth seed set up the tiebreak between the players. Clijsters was first to record a mini-break against Muguruza leading 2-0. An ace from Muguruza got her on the board before the Belgian took over service.
Two errors from Clijsters gave the Spaniard the lead at 3-2 who served up points on both sides but couldn’t gain a bigger gap on Clijsters. She had a match point at 6-5 but erred to return to status quo. A critical fly ball from the Belgian that fell just short of the baseline giving Muguruza a second match point. An eighth ace from the ninth seed closed a dramatic finish that went 1 hour and 37 minutes. In her post-match interview, Muguruza said,
“It was a special match. She (Clijsters) is back and is an incredible player, so I didn’t know how it was going to go. I’m happy to have faced her to be the one to play her, and I think she’s going to give a hard time.”
The 36-year-old Clijsters had 10 double faults in the match. Yet, she did well winning breakpoints while holding her first service together. Muguruza went on to add,
“I think her game was very good. A player that played incredibly can play incredible again, so I was expecting that it was going to be hard. I was expecting moments like this in the match. I was just trying to stay calm, just keep doing my game, and hopefully it was gonna go my way.”
Muguruza will face Ukraine's Elina Svitolina next in the Round of 32 in Dubai.